BEIRUT: The popular protests in Lebanon for the 32nd consecutive day against the “corrupt authority” succeeded in liberating the elections of the bar association from party control, as the major parties’ supporters voted for independent candidates on Sunday. The result was a complete surprise.
The winner was Melhem Khalaf, a civil society and social activist. Until recently, the position of president of the bar association was occupied by party lawyers, often from the Free Patriotic Movement headed by Minister Gebran Bassil.
At least 10,000 lawyers are listed in the Lebanese Bar Association from all of country except for the north, which has its own bar.
Lawyer George Nakhla of the Free Patriotic Movement announced his withdrawal from the elections a few hours before the ballot boxes were opened. Lawyer Sami Gemayel said that Nakhla’s withdrawal was due to the fact that he stood no chance of winning.
In the first round, five candidates were elected to the bar council, including three independents, of whom two got the highest votes: Melhem Khalaf and Nader Gaspard.
In the second round of the elections the major parties divided their votes between Khalaf and Gaspard. As a result, Hezbollah, Amal Movement, and Kataeb voted for Khalaf, while the other parties voted for Gaspard.
“No one will shatter our dreams and we desire to renew and modernize the bar that we will make a role model, we all compete to serve the bar,” Khalaf said before announcing his victory.
After his victory Khalaf saluted “all freedom lovers and protectors of democracy,” and said that “this scene will extend to the whole country for a renewal of all institutions along democratic lines so that it would be a bulwark that protects people and ensures the establishment of a just state.”
Lawyers in the headquarters of the bar association chanted “revolution revolution,” and chanted the Lebanese national anthem.
Activist Karam Al-Hassania, 23, who has been staying in a tent in Martyrs’ Square in the heart of Beirut since the beginning of the protests more than a month ago, believes that “many things have been accomplished by the revolution and many things have changed so far. People have begun to accept the other, we have broken the sectarian barrier, we have seen more people joining our movement or supporting us from afar, this confirms that people are coming out of the party’s mantle because they know that our suffering is the same.”
Elie Yazbek, 24, a graphic design student, said: “Over the days, we are gaining more sympathy from the people and more harassment by the authoirites.”
Protesters in Beirut prepared to commemorate Lebanon’s independence in their own way on Nov. 22. The Association of Lebanese Artists for Painting and Sculpture called on a number of artists on Sunday to draw paintings to express “independence in our way.”
Painters scattered paint on the sidewalks leading to Riad El-Solh Square, the entrances to its buildings and the perimeter of the Grand Teatro that was destroyed during the civil war.
Dana Halwani painted “Revolution as a Female.” Majida Shaaban painted “Independence in acrylic,” a city whose land, trampled by a girl with a Lebanese flag, emerges toward a new dawn. Jihad Nasser Al-Din painted wires that had been cut, and the map of Lebanon emerging from darkness to light.
Near the Teatro, Farid Rahmeh, a professor at the National Conservatory, played the flute for dozens of people who gathered around him. He said that his performance is dedicated to “this cultural teacher that bears witness to the artistic history of Lebanon,” and called on the mayor of Beirut “to allow us turn its entrance into a place where we can hold music performance evenings, instead of doing it in churches and university halls.”
A stand of rare and old books was set up on the street linking Martyrs’ and Riad El-Solh Squares by its owner Elie Sfeir, who explained: “I display these books that date back to the 1960s so that we can read history, in order not to repeat the mistakes of the past.”
The Grand Serail, the headquarters of the Prime Minister of Lebanon which overlooks Riad El-Solh Square, was in darkness. The government has resigned and the political parties in Lebanon have so far been unable to form a government to respond to the aspirations of protesters who keep coming out on to the streets.
Troubled by the main parties’ inability to resolve the situation, the Maronite Patriarch Bishara El-Rahi expressed his concern during Sunday sermon by saying: “Is this not a great crime against our homeland and our citizens? Is it not a great betrayal committed by impoverishing the people and dismantling the state? Do not despise the peaceful and civilized uprising of the youth, that does not carry any weapon. Young people are fed up with your policies and want a decent politics. This has not been practiced by you, and you have brought the country to bankruptcy and collapse.”